The Dallas Mavericks know there was nothing particularly artistic about Wednesday’s 87-78 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder.
But from where they were about a month ago to where they are now, style points and churning out Rembrandt-type victories can take a back seat as far as the Mavs are concerned.
In scoring their fewest points of the season and with superstar point guard Luka Doncic sitting this one out with lower back tightness, the Mavs relied on their defense in winning for the ninth time in their last 11 games. And the bottom line is, that’s all the Mavs and those fans assembled at American Airlines Center really care about.
“It kind of felt like one of those mid-early 90s games where both teams don’t really get to 100,” forward Tim Hardaway Jr. said. “It was a grinding it out type game, and muggy and that’s how they wanted to have it.
“We just have to make sure we match their intensity on both ends of the floor.”
The victory increased the Mavs’ record to 18-16 entering the All-Star break. Not bad for a team that was 9-14 a month ago.
And if the Warriors lose at Phoenix on Thursday and the Memphis Grizzlies lose at home to the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday, the Mavs will go into the All-Star break as the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference.
“The good thing is that we’re catching a rhythm lately,” forward Kristaps Porzingis said. “And we want to keep it going after the break.”
The Mavs kept it going Wednesday even though the cumulative 165 points scored represented the lowest scoring game they’ve been involved in all season. But in holding the Thunder to 19, 19 and 17 points over the last three quarters, respectively, coach Rick Carlisle gave kudos to his team’s stout defense.
“The defense was tremendous,” Carlisle said. “Maybe our second-best game. Three sub 20-point quarters, so the defensive belt tonight went to the entire team, which is a bit of a departure, but appropriate for the circumstance.”
The Mavs’ sticky defense held the Thunder (14-21) to 33.3 percent shooting from the field and 23.1 percent shooting from 3-point range. But the Mavs themselves didn’t fare much better on offense as they converted 38.6 percent of their field goals and 20 percent of their 3-point attempts (8-of-40).
“The shooting wasn’t there, particularly in the first half,” Carlisle said. “When I looked at halftime it was hard to believe we were one-for-19 from three, but we just kept with the process, we stepped into some shots in the second half.”
Thanks to a mid-range jumper by Jalen Brunson (11 points), a three-point play by Maxi Kleber and a 17-footer from Hardaway, the Mavs opened up a 49-42 lead at intermission. Then, behind some solid play from Trey Burke, Josh Richardson (16 points), Porzingis and Hardaway, the flood gates busted open in the second half.
Hardaway scored seven of his 19 points in the third quarter, and Burke contributed five points and three assists during that period.
“I thought Richardson played a really great floor game and made key shots,” Carlisle said. “KP stayed patient and was a huge factor offensively even though his numbers weren’t super gaudy. His screening, his rolling, his positioning on the floor makes a difference for everybody else.
“Burke and Hardaway off the bench were terrific. These last two games Burke really gave us a big lift. He kept himself ready, so he was terrific.”
Porzingis collected 19 points and a season-high tying 13 rebounds. He also was 7-of-15 from the field, including 3-of-6 from beyond the 3-point arc, and bang in consecutive three-pointers to stretch the Mavs’ lead to 84-64 with 7:40 remaining.
“Tonight I didn’t want to force anything,” Porzingis said. “I knew the ball was going to come back to me and I just keep playing. Again, some easy ones came to me and I shot them, and for us it’s important that we’re moving the ball and everybody feels involved.
“That’s why our energy was good on defense. You could see that translate. For our offense, that wasn’t great, but we were moving it well and that’s why we were able to hold them to (78) points.”
Before the game, Carlisle explained why the decision was made to sit Doncic.
“The low back thing that’s been bothering him really going back two-and-a-half weeks,” he said. “During the eight-day layoff (two weeks ago), two of those practices he was wearing this heat massage belt for the first half of the practice.
“He did the same thing at the practice we had in New York City (last Friday) prior to the Brooklyn game. It’s just something where he needs to take a game (off). We love to have him, but this is the right decision.”
Carlisle didn’t blame the poor shooting from 3-point territory on the absence of Doncic, who missed just his second game of the season and is averaging 28.6 points and nine assists per contest.
“I liked the looks,” Carlisle said. “Some nights you just got to keep firing them up there. Those are high value shots. We’ve been shooting the three well particularly in the last three, three-and-a-half weeks. I just like the way we stuck to the process in the second half.”
That’s exactly what the Mavs have been doing after that brutal start to the season. They’ve been sticking to the process and staying with it.
Now the Mavs are two games over .500 for just the second time this season and for the only other time since they were 6-4 on Jan. 13 following a 104-93 win in Charlotte.
“I was real happy for our team,” Carlisle said. “This is a game that they really wanted and we go into the break with some momentum.”
The Mavs’ next game is March 10 at home against the San Antonio Spurs. For now, they just want to savor this moment and get some much-needed rest over the next few days.